by Miceál O’Hurley
VLADIVOSTOK — Russian FSB officers stand accused by Japan of detaining, blindfolding and mistreating a Japanese diplomat before declaring him persona non grata and ordering him to leave Russia within 48-hours. Russia claims the Japanese diplomat paid for classified information. Tatsunori Motoki was assigned to the Japanese Consulate at the time of his detention. Speaking from Tokyo, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno called Motoki’s detention as unacceptable, accusing the FSB of using a “coercive” approach in their detention and interrogation of the Japanese diplomat. According to comments made during a media briefing this morning, Matsuno said, “There is absolutely no evidence that the staff (consulate official) in question engaged in illegal activities as claimed by the Russian side.”
According to a FSB statement widely published in Russian news media overnight, Russia’s security agency confirmed it had detained a Japanese consul in Vladivostok yesterday and accused him of espionage before ordering him to leave the country. In admitting to the detention, the FSB statement claimed, “A Japanese diplomat was detained red-handed while receiving classified information, in exchange for money, about Russia’s cooperation with another country in the Asia-Pacific region.”
In the aftermath of the event Japan lodged and official protest with the Russian Federation Ministry of Foreign Affairs accusing Russia of “unreasonable” behaviour, threatening unspecified “equivalent steps.” Citing anonymous Government sources, Japan’s Kyodo news agency reported, “In this case, the consular officer was blindfolded from start to finish, and was taken away with both his hands and head held down, unable to move, and then subjected to coercive interrogation. The actions by the Russian side constitute a clear and serious violation of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations and the Soviet-Japanese Consular Convention. It is extremely regrettable and not accepted by any means.” The Russian Federation Foreign Ministry has confirmed they have declared Tatsunori Motoki persona non grata and ordered him to leave the country within 48-hours.
According to the FSB statement carried by Russian media, Tatsunori Motoki had been engaged in the soliciting specific information about “… the impact of Western sanctions” on the eastern Primorsky region.
Russian media is carrying video footage of what allegedly shows Tatsunori Motoki receiving documents in what appears to be a restaurant. Additional footage allegedly depicts him admitting to espionage while in FSB detention. Japan dismissed the reports as out of context and any admission having been false, induced by coercion and physical mistreatment. According to the un-named Japanese government source cited by the Kyodo News Agency, “… [the detention and mistreatment of Tatsunori Motoki was] a clear violation of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations” and the order of expulsion was “unreasonable.”
Russia is widely considered to view Japan as a “hostile” country, resorting to use of this term in numerous press briefings by Russian officials. Russia has deemed Japan “hostile” along with the entirety of the European Union (with the exception of Hungary), the United States and it allies, most pointedly the United Kingdom and Australia. Japan has joined these supposedly “hostile” nations in imposing sanctions against Russia in the aftermath of its invasion of Ukraine.
Russian-Japanese relations have long been marked by tension with long periods of moderate detante. In the waning days of World War II, Stalin finally declared war on Japan in order to make reparations and territorial claims upon Japan. Stalin had long-avoided declaring war on Japan much to the consternation of other Allied powers. In the aftermath of VJ Day, Stalin set the stage for an enduring conflict with Japan by making claims upon Japan’s Northern Territories which Russia calls the Kuril Islands.
A series of escalating retaliatory sanctions, Russian-Japanese relations have worsened steadily since the 24 February expansion of Russia’s war on Ukraine. Russia’s relationship with North Korea has also become a source of regional destabilisation efforts marked by Kim Jong Un’s continuing march towards nuclear weaponisation and a series of missile launches over the Sea of Japan.
Russia’s detention, blindfolding and coercive treatment of a diplomat is a bright-line violation of the Vienna Convention. The detention of Tatsunori Motoki comes on the heels of their ally, Alexander Lukashenka’s Belarus, detaining EU diplomat Evelina Shultz last month.
Cover Photo: FSB image purporting to show Tatsunori Motoki in custody.